GLOBAL advocacy group, Amnesty International (AI), has termed the Protection from Internet Falsehoods, Manipulations and Other Related Matters Bill, 2019, popularly known as Social Media Bill, a threat to freedom of expression in Nigeria.
The submission was made by Osai Ojigho, Country Director of AI during the public hearing of the Social Media Bill held at the National Assembly Complex on Monday.
According to Ojigho, the Social Media Bill “fails to fulfill the requirements permissible under Nigerian Constitution and international human rights law and would be a serious threat to the exercise of people’s human rights including the right to freedom of expression and media freedom in Nigeria.”
Ojigho’s position was reflected in the statement of other Civil Organisations and Federal agencies that were present at the public hearing, all against the bill, except the Nigerian Army, who advocated for the passage of the bill into law.
Speaking in support of the bill, Solomon Udoma, representative of the Chief of Army Staff, Tukur Buaratai, said that the Military which is first responsible for land warfare operations of the country, believes the provision of the bill will advance the needs of national security.
“We welcome this bill for reasons of national security,” Udoma said, right before submitting that fake news which targets the military can undermine military leadership and lower troop morale as well as implicate steps taken to protect the nation.
The Social Media Bill which has generated mixed reactions on social media since it passed second reading in the 9th Assembly on November 20, 2020 was sponsored by Mohammed Sani Musa, senator representing Niger East under the flagship of All Progressives Congress (APC).
Musa, through the Bill, seeks to provide a legal framework that will regulate social media.
But the bill which has been described as draconian in nature and termed a law seeking to ‘pigeon-hole’ Nigerians on the internet, proposes as part of its objectives to; prevent the transmission of false statements/declaration of facts in Nigeria and to enable measures to be taken to counter the effects of such transmission.
It also seeks to “enable measures be taken to detect, control and safeguard against coordinated inauthentic behaviour and other misuse of online accounts and bots.”
Despite criticisms against the bill, Musa, while addressing audience during the public hearing, reiterated that his position was not that the bill must be passed but that Nigerians allow reason in deciding their stance against or for the bill.
According to him, his submission of the bill at the floor of the Senate was a personal decision.
““When I conceived this bill, I didn’t consult with anybody,” he said.
Speaking against the bill, Umar Dambata, Executive Chairman Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC)remarked that some requirements of the bill are impossible to meet because Nigeria doesn’t control or own new media as majority of the websites and social media platforms were run outside the shores of the country and as such the main aim of the bill would be impossible to effect.
Dambata who stated that the NCC is the national regulatory authority for the telecommunications industry in Nigeria emphasised that while it wields the power to protect the internet space, it doesn’t control the content shared on it.
Dambata’s statement was reiterated by majority of the civil society stakeholders present at the meeting. They all submitted that the bill be trashed.
Omoyele Sowere, publisher of Sahara Reporters planted a thought puzzle when he asked the definition of ‘falsehood’
According to him; ” Is something false because the government doesn’t like it or because people recognize it as false?”